As I’ve mentioned before, I’m only a quarter Palestinian. So it came as a surprise to me when my mother called a week ago to tell me I have around 500 distant (but directly traceable) relatives in Ramallah. At least, these 500 were coming to the wedding my second cousin Eman invited me to. His son, Karim, is getting married, and the festivities have lasted three days. I missed the first day, but I arrived in Ramallah on the 14th for the “small” family get-together, including commercial loudspeakers and dabke dancing until 4 am. When I woke up, Tessa and Giulia had arrived (my cousins had kindly invited them as well). Between lunch, wedding preparations, and the salon, the day quickly disappeared, and before we knew it we were in a van, one among, twenty, rushing to pick up the bride.
There was already a crowd when we arrived, so we barely caught a glimpse of white before she vanished into the groom’s car. Then they took off, and all the other cars followed, ours included. The groom drove behind a camera truck, filming the entire drive; so of course, every other car wanted to be in the frame. I’ve seen crazy drivers before. I’ve been in our minivan when my dad was going 80 mph down a windy cliff road. But no driver has ever made me fear for my life the way this one did when he turned Ramallah Radio 103.4 way up and rocketed us straight for a four-way merge. He slammed the breaks at the last possible moment, and the groom’s black Audi had to drift to avoid being hit. Our entourage of vehicles kept this up the whole trip: fishtailing, beeping, and blasting music, with kids hanging out the windows and exhaust pipes popping. All I could think was that my parents are worried about me for the wrong reasons. If anything kills me in Palestine, it will be the drivers, not the rockets 80 km away in Gaza.
We arrive safe and sound, only to be immediately swept into the growing crowd around the groom. I don’t know where his bride went, but Karim was surrounded by a troupe of drummers and cheering friends. As the troupe beat out a quick baladi rhythm, his friends rushed him and began tossing him in the air. For the record, Karim is neither small nor thin. But that didn’t stop the crowd from throwing him five feet in the air and carrying him on their shoulders.
I made my way for the hall, and was a little shocked to find that the two floors were gender-segregated, before remembering that this was a Muslim wedding. Up on the women’s floor, 250 ladies unraveled their scarves and revealed elegant dresses and complex hair-dos. Then the bride appeared on the silver carpet, clad in sparkling white from head to toe. Even with her veil on it was obvious that she was gorgeous. But then she too removed her scarf, and the groom arrived to accompany her for the first dance. After that, the night was blur of flashy dabke dancers, Arabic electronic music, cake-cutting, fireworks, a bizarre giant plastic ball for the newlyweds (?), and presentation of the dowry for the bride. The formal matrimony ceremony actually occurs in private, so there was no altar; just a swanky white couch on a stage, overlooking the masses. Arabs party late, and by the end, the three of us were exhausted.
Palestinians are known for their hospitality, and my cousins really push the stereotype. At 3 am, they tried to offer us dinner, and only let us order a taxi back to Nablus when we insisted we had work in the morning. Even then, they slipped the payment to the taxi driver and told us not to worry about it. It was simultaneously frustrating and incredibly endearing. This taxi was a lot a gentler than the groom’s entourage, and on the way back I dreamed of dabke and wedding cake.